“I’d rather be chewed up and spit out than swallowed whole.”
When I received Kara Thomas’ The Darkest Corners the other morning at work, I thought it was going to kill me. It was a great piece of bookmail — a UPS package wrapped in crimson tape labeled “EVIDENCE.” When I finally worked out up the courage to open it, I found a plastic evidence bag, filled in with information that only just now makes sense to me, having finished the book. Within was a copy of The Darkest Corners and fake newspaper clippings from the Fayette News, detailing the murders of multiple girls in the small town of Fayette, PA.
Okay. You hooked me Delacorte. You got me.
If you’re a reader who doesn’t like your ARCs to arrive with some bells and whistles, 1) c’mon, it’s cool free stuff! and 2) don’t let that dissuade you from reading The Darkest Corners. This is a genuinely complex novel, one that will draw you in from page one by telling you very little and slowly, slowly unraveling and allowing you to know more, pulling you along into both a decade-old case and a new murder that may or may not be connected. My reading habits haven’t often skewed towards YA, but The Darkest Corners finally convinced me that I might just have an interest in teenager dealing with the things in the dark.
We open with protagonist Tessa Lowell, who is flying from Orlando up to her old hometown of Fayette to say goodbye to her father, who is dying in the prison that has been his place of residence since Tessa was a little girl. But while in tiny Fayette, Tessa can’t escape the gaping looks of her now grown-up classmates, especially the one she’s staying with: her ex-best friend Callie, whose cousin Lori was one of the victims of the Ohio River Monster ten ears earlier. Callie and Tessa identified a man named Wyatt Stokes as Lori’s murderer, claiming to have seen him the night she died. Circumstantial evidence — and an awful temperament — made him the prime suspect in the four Monster murders, and the testimony of two eight-year-old girls put him away.
But Tessa can’t be sure what she saw that night, and she’s been keeping something potentially damaging to herself since she was a girl. And it’s clear that Callie, though determined to believe Stokes is the murderer, isn’t sure either, especially when another girl in her graduating class, an old friend of both Tessa and Callia, dies in an almost identical way to the original four victims.
Tessa becomes a dark, complex Nancy Drew, seeking out an absentee mother, a runaway older sister, and the truth, in this engrossing YA crime novel. If you aren’t a YA reader, don’t worry — neither am I. This book is certainly appropriate for older teens, but adults will be just as enthralled. Tessa is just dark, sad, and screwed up enough to make her interesting and painfully real. Almost everyone will be able to relate to her self-deprecation and her confusion. Thomas also nails the teen voice, giving us kids on the cusp of adulthood who can be both concerned with parties and sex, yet also interested in delving into a decade-old series of murders and pondering how to escape the pull a small, rural town seems to exude on the young and unambitious.
This book put me immediately in mind of two other pieces of media. The first was one of my favorite movies, Scream, especially with the possibly mistaken identity of a killer (Sidney Prescott and Cotton Weary, anyone?). At every turn Tessa — and Callie, and the town of Fayette — is assaulted with the idea that her memory may not be infallible, that there may be more to the story, and while everyone wants to believe the Monster is behind bars, he may not be. Is it worth letting another innocent girl die, just so everyone can sleep at night?
I also thought of Duane Swierczynski’s Canary. I won a copy of that last year in a giveaway, and no crime novel has absorbed me the way that book did — until The Darkest Corners came along. Both protagonists are young, female, and dragged into crimes they shouldn’t have to solve, and neither can look away from the trainwreck their lives become, even if it means risking everything to reveal the truth.
There were a few plot points that I picked up on fairly early — and I’m not the kind to sit there trying to prove I’m smarter than the characters — that were played as big revelations, things that I feel someone as smart as Tessa apparently is should have seen coming. But there is one big twist I absolutely did not see coming, and though it seems to come a little out of left field on the very last page, it didn’t feel cheap. I was willing to follow Tessa — and Kara Thomas — wherever she wanted to lead me, and I’m going to encourage others to do the same.
Have you read The Darkest Corners? Do you have other dark YA thrillers you think I’ll enjoy? Let me know in the comments!